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Facet Analysis of Video Game Genres

Jin Ha Lee1, Natascha Karlova1, Rachel Ivy Clarke1, Katherine Thornton1 and Andrew
Perti2
University of Washington, Information School
Seattle Interactive Media Museum

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Abstract
Genre is an important feature for organizing and accessing video games. However, current descriptors of
video game genres are unstandardized, undefined, and embedded with multiple information dimensions.
This paper describes the development of a more complex and sophisticated scheme consisting of 12 facets
and 358 foci for describing and representing video game genre information. Using facet analysis, the
authors analyzed existing genre labels from scholarly, commercial, and popular sources, and then
synthesized them into discrete categories of indexing terms. This new, more robust scheme provides a
framework for improved intellectual access to video games along multiple dimensions.

Keywords: genre, facet analysis, video game, interactive media


Citation: Lee, J. H., Karlova, N., Clarke, R. I., Thornton, K., & Perti, A. (2014). Facet Analysis of Video Game Genres. In
iConference 2014 Proceedings (p. 125139). doi:10.9776/14057
Copyright: Copyright is held by the authors.
Acknowledgements: We thank Dr. Joseph Tennis (University of Washington, Information School) and Michael Carpenter
(Seattle Interactive Media Museum) for their contributions to the project. We also thank the University of Washingtons Office of
Research for their financial support for this research.
Contact: jinhalee@uw.edu, nkarlova@uw.edu, raclarke@uw.edu, thornt@uw.edu, andrew.perti@thesimm.org

Introduction

As video games increase in popularity, users expect efficient and intelligent access to them, similar to their
access to other media. Game designers, manufacturers, scholars, educators, players and parents of young
gamers all need meaningful ways of finding, accessing, and interpreting video games. As a first step in
providing robust access to video games for diverse stakeholders, we need to understand the information
provided to users through current video game access.
Previous literature identifies genre as one of the most important features for accessing video games
(Winget, 2011). As part of a larger research effort intending to improve access to video games, this paper
explores the following two research questions:
I.

What are the different types of information that are represented in the genre labels that are
currently used in available game organization systems?
II. What are the facets and foci that can systematically describe the different types of information
currently embedded in video game genre labels?

In order to understand genre access offered by current systems, the authors identified multiple information
dimensions represented in video game genres through facet analysis. Facet analysis is the process of
examining a subject field and dividing it into fundamental categories, each of which represents an essential
characteristic of division of the subject field (Spiteri, 1997). In this paper, we present a faceted classification
scheme for video game genre based on our analysis of hundreds of pre-existing genre labels collected from
existing video game organization systems. We provide definitions and explanations for each facet as well as
examples of foci (i.e., indexing terms) along with a discussion on issues and challenges in representing video
game genres.

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Background and Related Work


Research Question

Currently available video game organization systems stem from two sources: the field of library and
information science (LIS); and commercial systems on the Web, such as game sales or review websites
(industry and fan-based). Both sources illuminate problems in helping users access video games.
Non-book materials in libraries often end up described by form rather than content (Leigh, 2002).
Items are organized and accessed according to physical format (e.g., VHS, DVD, cassette.) rather than
grouped conceptually (such as collocating book and movie versions of Pride & Prejudice). Shoehorning nonbook objects into a bibliographic description creates sub-optimal descriptions (Hagler, 1980), making it hard
for people to find what they seek. Indexers also face challenges in describing games with bibliographic
standards. For example, video games do not come with title pages, so rules stipulating transcription of
information from title pages are unusable for video games.
Other bibliographic models attempt to address this problem, such as Functional Requirements for
Bibliographic Records (FRBR) (IFLA, 2009), but fundamental problems arise when applying these ideas to
video games (McDonough et al., 2010). Descriptions based on the context of an object, such as a users
reaction (e.g., mood), or similarity-based relationships (i.e., similar games)--which can be significant in the
context of video games--are not represented in FRBR (Lee, 2010). Despite a focus on improving particular
user tasks, FRBR is limited because it is derived solely from descriptions of information objects rather than
on studies of users desired descriptive information.
Library of Congress Subject Headings, designed to describe all materials held by libraries, contains
only 219 headings (out of about 337,000) for describing video games mostly by name (e.g., Halo, Legend of
Zelda). Consequently, many notable series are missing (e.g., Final Fantasy, Mass Effect) and these subject
headings cannot be used for collocating similar games outside of a particular series. In addition, there are
only five genre headings for video games: Computer adventure games, Computer baseball games, Computer
flight games, Computer war games, and Computer word games. Such genre headings are limited at best,
and hamper both searchability and browsability.
A small number of LIS studies on metadata for video games exist (e.g., McDonough et al., 2010;
Winget, 2011), but they tend to focus on older games due to an interest in preservation. These studies,
however, consider game information from a data- or creator-centric point of view, rather than that of an
end user.
Alternatively, the web contains massive information about video games, scattered across many
sources. Such a wealth of information, however, creates a poverty of certainty in determining authority and
trustworthiness. Websites like Amazon.com, Mobygames, GameSpot, etc. are generally geared toward
purchasing decisions and provide mostly basic descriptive elements like title, platform, genre, release date,
and publisher. Websites like Wikipedia provide large amounts of descriptive information, but it is
unsubstantiated, unstructured, and cumbersome to navigate. As a result, users leverage multiple sources to
find and cross-check information across sites.
These limitations of current organization systems motivated us to explore innovative ways to
provide subject access to video games beyond basic descriptive elements -- information that can better
inform users about the content or aboutness of the game. Doing so can assist future systems to better
collocate similar games and make more intelligent recommendations.

2.2

Video Game Genres

In the interdisciplinary field of Game Studies, video game genres are simultaneously well-understood (for
example, something like SW:TOR is my favorite MMORPG) and completely opaque (Its almost like a
mix of Call Of Duty, Bejeweled, and Kirbys Epic Yarn but different!). Such confusion may stem from
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debates about the nature of video games. Narratologists argue games are texts with narrative structures
and devices (like films), while ludologists argue that games are interactive experiences focused on gameplay
and game mechanics. The complexity of video game genres suggests games are both.
One of the earliest scholars to tackle game genre, Wolf (2001) modeled his system after the Library
of Congress Moving Imagery Genre-Form Guide. He created 42 categories of games based largely on
gameplay and interactivity (e.g., Abstract, Gambling, Racing, etc.). He deliberately excluded other elements,
like mood or theme, as his system was intended to be used alongside an imagery- or style-based system
(such as film genres). However, Wolfs system is commonly critiqued for over-reliance on early-era examples
(e.g., Space Invaders, Frogger, etc.) to build definitions, and for failing to accommodate modern genres,
such as MMORPG or First Person Shooter (Clearwater, 2011; Whalen, 2004).
King and Krzywinska (2002) describe a 4-tiered hierarchy which emphasizes interactivity rather
than narrative: Platform referred to the gaming hardware; Genre referred to broad categories such as
action-adventure, driving, or strategy, (p.26); Mode referred to players experiences of the gameworld;
and Milieu referred to location and atmospheric or stylistic conventions (p. 27). Whalen (2004) argues
that this hierarchy fails to create a common language by ignoring game websites, and that, concurring with
Clearwater (2011), these terms describe game elements occurring simultaneously, rather than hierarchically.
Whalen instead suggests that most games can be divided into three categories: Massive games that are
networked (thereby enabling massive numbers of players); mobile games designed for smaller screens and
shorter play times; and real games requir[ing] players to physically relocate themselves as an act of playing
the game (p.301). Whalens terms challenge the notion of genre, forcing new consideration of the
constitutive elements of many games.
Apperley (2006) proposed a detailed view on four common terms describing video game genres.
Simulation games mimic physical world activities but only to the extent that such mimesis does not
interfere with entertainment. Strategy games require collecting, processing, interpreting, and accessing
information via the game interface. Action games rely on the performativity of the player. Role-playing
games are marked by changes in and valuations of players avatar characteristics (e.g., changes in level,
power, armor, etc.). These definitions offer a critical view of genre often missing from larger discussions
about the relationships among genres and players.
Elverdam and Aarseth (2007) present their typology as an iteration on an earlier version (see
Aarseth, Smedstad & Sunnan, 2003). Their goal is to provide a tool enabling game designers to
communicate with academics, game journalists, and players. The revised typology presents eight
metacategories (e.g., Player Relation, External Time). Each metacategory has two to three unique
dimensions (e.g., Teleology, Mutability, Synchronicity). Each dimension has two to three elements (e.g.,
Mimetic/Arbitrary, Finite/Infinite). The typology can then be used to compare games to find similarities
and differences. The authors highlight the importance of a knowledge base of classified games that is
accessible to a broader field of researchers and developers (p.20), which supports our goal.
None of the systems reviewed above offer sufficient tools for categorization. Like the library-,
industry-, and fan-based systems described earlier, game studies scholars find many dimensions of
information embedded in video game genre descriptions. While some demonstrate attempts to tease out
these different dimensions, most of these authors rely heavily on literary genre theory or film genre theory,
revealing the narratological bias of these early works. Only Elverdam & Aarseth (2007) crafted a system
based solely on games themselves. However, even their typology suffers from the challenge of complexity,
and is best viewed as a meta-tool to begin thinking about classification.
Classification theory seems to be alien in game studies, so we bring a fresh approach to a longstanding problem in this area. As game studies shifts towards a more ludological perspective rather than a
strictly narratological view, discussions of genre face an impasse. We believe our work can provide forward
momentum.
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Study Design

3.1

Method

We employed the method of facet analysis to tease out the different types of information that are represented
in current video genre labels. Facet analysis is based upon two processes (Ranganathan, 1967; Spiteri, 1997):
a) Analysis, whereby a subject field is divided into fundamental categories, each of which represents
an essential characteristic of division of the subject field;
b) Synthesis, whereby individual concepts from these categories may be combined to express compound
subjects (Spiteri, 1997 p.21)
Broughton (2008) asserts that facet analysis is the only means of organizing the concepts in a subject
domain that has a logical and intellectual basis (p.193). Many systems are built after facet analysis has
been conducted, but the analysis method itself is rarely discussed in detail.
Broughton and Slavic (2007) outline their application of facet analysis for the creation of a faceted
classification for humanities resources. They looked at extant schemes and pulled terms from them to name
and organize the facets to be used in their system. Using Ranganathans fundamental categories as a starting
point, they then modified them substantially to reflect the particularities of the humanities (e.g., abstract
concepts, philosophical concepts, etc.). Gnoli and Hong (2006) discuss their application of facet analysis in
their description of developing the Integrative Level Classification. Building on the fundamental categories
of the Classification Research Group, they refined the categories on the basis of increasing complexity. This
experimental work involved the classification of small corpuses of documents to test their system and to
undertake research into appropriate user interfaces.
Each of these studies shows that working from an existing controlled vocabulary or set of indexing
terms is a useful approach when undertaking a facet analysis. By employing facet analysis, we attempted
to create a conceptual map of a subject field: video game genres. Our process of facet analysis is summarized
in Figure 1.
3.1.1

Process of Developing Facets and Foci: Analysis

For the Analysis part, we started by conducting a domain analysis of how genre labels are currently being
used in the video game community. This process consisted of two parts: 1) literature review on video game
genres (described above), and 2) collection of empirical genre data, i.e., the actual genre labels used in
existing video game organization systems as well as game-related literature.
We ended up with 804 instances of genre labels from multiple game-related websites and online
directories/ encyclopedias (e.g., Allgame, Gamefaqs, Gamespot, Mobygames, IGN, Giantbomb, dmoz,
ranker, Wikipedia, Amazon) as well as previous literature related to game genres (e.g., Apperley, 2006;
Djaouti et al., 2007; Djaouti et al., 2008; King, Delfabbro & Griffiths, 2010; Foster & Misha, 2011; Wolf,
2001). After eliminating duplicates, areas of conceptual overlap, and labels that were not applicable (e.g.,
labels describing interactive media such as word processors or image editing software), we used card sorting
to organize and elicit categories describing different types of genre labels. Card sorting can be used as an
exploratory technique as part of the piloting work without any preliminary elicitation using other techniques
(Rugg & McGeorge, 2002). Here, it enabled us to create a conceptual framework to organize hundreds of
genre labels. The terms were printed on paper strips and organized into homogenous, mutually exclusive
categories representing specific characteristics of division of video game genres. This information was later
digitized into a spreadsheet where labels found on new sources were continually added.
After identifying major categories, we identified and named the facets to reasonably describe the
specific characteristics of division (e.g., Gameplay, Artistic style, Theme, Mood/Affect). The final list of
facets was chosen based on the seven guiding principles for selecting facets by Spiteri (1998):
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Differentiation: Facets should distinguish clearly among the component parts.


Relevance: Facets should be chosen for their relevance to the purpose, subject, and scope of the
classification
Ascertainability: Facets should represent characteristics of division that can be measured.
Permanence: Facets should represent permanent qualities of the item being divided.
Homogeneity: Facets must represent only one characteristic of division.
Mutual exclusivity: Two facets cannot overlap.
Fundamental categories: Categories should be derived based on the nature of the subject being
classified.
Next, we clearly defined each of these facets.
This critical component differentiates our
scheme from many current game genres, as
a major problem during our analysis was
that genre labels lacked definition. Then we
organized the foci for each facet based on
the genre labels collected. The term foci
is commonly used to refer to indexing terms
in facet analysis (Spiteri, 1998). Then we
evaluated each term based on potential enduser warrant, considering the terms
popularity and potential user familiarity.
We sought domain expertise from the
creators of SIMM (Seattle Interactive Media
Museum) to make this judgment.
3.1.2
Process of Developing Facets and
Foci: Synthesis

In the Synthesis phase, we reduced the size


and complexity of the foci in the genre
scheme. By combining separate indexing
terms, it is possible to represent complex
and compound subjects without the need for
enumerating all those concepts. Like Gnoli
and Hongs (2006) test, we described a
variety of sample games representing
Figure 1: Steps Involved in Facet Analysis
diverse gameplays and platforms to identify
any problems with the scheme and remedy
them by adding, deleting, or modifying the indexing terms. Through this iterative process, we continued to
evaluate and refine the indexing terms.
This term control process also involved evaluating the specificity of the terms, controlling
homographs, maintaining term consistency and word forms, semantic factoring, and so on (Aitchison,
Gilchrist & Bawden, 1997). Afterwards, we defined the foci in order to clearly convey the meanings of the
terms and thus established the final set of facets and foci.

3.2

Limitations

We acknowledge the inevitable incompleteness of the scheme. There will always be some game-related
websites excluded from our sampling, and certain types of games not included in the sample games used to
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evaluate the terms. Additionally, even domain experts and enthusiasts are challenged by understanding the
meanings of all the indexing terms (e.g., What is the difference between Shmup and Light gun games?;
What does Exergaming mean?) as well as the domain itself (e.g., Do Meditation games really exist?;
How has RPG (Role-Playing Game) evolved over time and what are the differences between JRPG
and Western RPG?).
We plan to mitigate these issues by systematically evaluating the scheme via soliciting feedback
from gamers, and continuing to evaluate video games against the scheme, especially newer games such as
digitally downloadable games and apps. Creating any controlled vocabulary requires continuous attention
and ongoing maintenance. However, because faceted classification offers increased flexibility and
extensibility over other systems like hierarchical taxonomies or keyword lists (Kwasnik, 1999), this scheme
is designed to be easier to update and revise. As the video game domain evolves, we plan to continually
revise our scheme with help from domain experts and enthusiasts.

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4.1

Data and Discussion


Facets and Foci

Twelve facets were identified, each representing a different characteristic of division related to video game
genres. The first column of Table 1 lists the facets. The number of foci (i.e., indexing terms) identified
under each facet is provided in the second column. The third column illustrates a small number of foci
examples for each facet 1. Certain facets and foci were structured hierarchically: for instance, the facet
Gameplay has the sub-facet Style describing more specific kinds of gameplay; Theme has 22 parent terms
that are divided into 127 child terms; and Setting was divided into two sub-types Spatial and Temporal.
The following subsections provide more detailed information on each facet and challenges faced when
defining them.
Determining the characteristics of division in video game genres was not clear-cut and required
much discussion. Many questions arose, some of which we could not answer in a satisfying manner. However,
this faceted scheme provides a flexible framework that can represent multiple foci under any facet, thus
allowing a more thorough representation of the subject of a video game. The scheme is easily extendable
and therefore accommodating of an unlimited number of new foci as games evolve. Note that for some facets
that emerged during our work, we were able to identify only one or two instances of the genre labels
representing those facets (e.g., Forms of expression textual or graphical, Number of players MMORPG,
MMOFPS), thus they were excluded in our final scheme.
Facet
Gameplay
Style

Number of Foci
10
100

Purpose
Target
Audience
Presentation
Artistic style
Temporal
Aspect

7
18
10
9
7

Examples of Foci
Action, Fighting, RPG, Strategy
Under gameplay Action (Beatem up, Platformer, Rhythm)
Under gameplay Shooter (Shmup, Light Gun, Run & Gun)
Education, Entertainment, Party
Everyone (ESRB), 12+ (iTunes), MA-17 (VRC), Low maturity
(Android)
2D, 3D, Grid-based, Side scrolling
Abstract, Cel-shaded, Retro
Real-time, Turn-based, Multiple game clocks, Timed action

Space limitations prevent a full list of foci for certain facets such as Style or Theme. The full scheme will be accessible on
http://gamer.ischool.uw.edu/.
1

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Point-of-view
Theme

4
22 (parent)
127 (child)

Setting

16 (spatial)
8 (temporal)
15
5

Mood/Affect
Type of
ending

First person, Third person, Overhead, Multiple perspectives


Nature: Animals, Dinosaurs
Food: Restaurant, Bakery
Fantasy: Princess, Knights
Sports: Baseball, Basketball
Spatial: Casino, Spaceship, Western, Urban
Temporal: Medieval, Modern, Futuristic, Steampunk
Horror, Humorous, Dark, Peaceful
Finite, Branching, Circuitous, Infinite, Post-game

Table 1: Video Game Genre Facets with Examples of Genre Labels Representing Each Facet
4.1.1

Gameplay

In this scheme, Gameplay is defined as the overall nature of the experience defined by a pattern of
interactions and game rules. The foci listed under the facet Gameplay are the terms used most commonly
as genre terms in typical video game organization systems. This particular facet is also considered the most
fundamental category of all facets in our scheme. Discussions among researchers and SIMM staff led to ten
chosen foci: Action, Action/Adventure, Driving/Racing, Fighting, Puzzle, RPG, Shooter, Simulation,
Sports, and Strategy. Our definitions of these foci along with game examples are provided below:

Action: Games with a heavy emphasis on a series of actions performed by the player in order to
meet a certain set of objectives (e.g., Super Mario Bros., Patapon)
Action/Adventure: Games which are set in a world for the player to explore and complete a certain
set of objectives through a series of actions (e.g., The Legend of Zelda, Prince of Persia)
Driving/Racing: Games involving driving various types of vehicles as the main action, sometimes
with an objective of winning a race against an opponent (e.g., Mario Kart, Gran Turismo)
Fighting: Games involving the player to control a game character to engage in a combat against an
opponent (e.g., Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat)
Puzzle: Games with an objective of figuring out the solution by solving enigmas, navigating, and
manipulating and reconfiguring objects (modified from Wolf, 2001) (e.g., Tetris, Minesweeper)
RPG: Games with an emphasis on the players character development and narrative components
(e.g., Final Fantasy, Mass Effect)
Shooter: Games involving shooting at, and often destroying, a series of opponents or objects (Wolf,
2001) (e.g., Doom, Duck Hunt)
Simulation: Games intending to recreate an experience of a real world activity in the game world
(e.g., SimCity, Trauma Center)
Sports: Games featuring a simulation of particular sports in the game world (e.g., FIFA series, Wii
Sports)
Strategy: Games characterized by players strategic decisions and interventions to bring the desired
outcome (modified from Apperley, 2006) (e.g., StarCraft, Total War series)

One key challenge in developing these foci was mutual exclusivity. Some categories seem to have unclear
boundaries and overlap conceptually. Many questions emerged, such as: how different are Action and
Action/Adventure games? How about games employing multiple gameplay components such as
Action/Adventure, RPG, and Puzzle? Are all games essentially Action games since they all require some
actions performed by the player? The category Action in particular seemed akin to the music genre Pop
or movie genre Action which work to specify a particular type of cultural object as well as a catch-all
category. A first attempt at resolution focused on providing simple and clear definitions with example games
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for each of the categories. In future work, we plan to further test and evaluate these foci by cataloging a
larger number of sample video games and investigating whether gamers are reasonably able to comprehend
and distinguish among these different labels of gameplay.
4.1.2

Style

Style is defined as a particular distinctive characteristic, mode of action, or manner of a gameplay. This
facet functions as a Gameplay sub-facet. The foci from both facets are combined to create a compound
indexing term (e.g., Action Platformer; Action/Adventure Stealth; RPG MMORPG; Strategy Tower
defense). This facet allows for a more intelligent collocation of similar games under a particular Gameplay
such as the sub-categories of Beatem up vs. Platformer, which are both types of Action gameplay.
4.1.3

Purpose

Purpose is defined as the reason for why the game exists as intended by the game designer(s)/developer(s).
Purpose emphasizes the intention(s) of game designers and developers rather than that of end users; how
users ultimately use the game is contextual and subjective. Our final list is comprised of six purposes:

Education: Games in which the goal is to support learning. There are a broad range of educational
games, from those teaching spelling to computer programing to animal facts, etc. (e.g., Big Brain
Academy: Wii Degree, Carmen Sandiego series)
Entertainment: Games in which the goal is to allow the player to have fun. A large majority of
games have entertainment as their purpose. (e.g., Mass Effect, Kingdom Hearts, Super Mario Bros.)
Exercise: Games in which the goal is to get players to move their physical bodies and burn calories
or participate in some type of athletic pursuit. (e.g., Wii Fit series, Dance Dance Revolution)
Meditation: Games which help support players engagement in meditation and mindfulness
activities. (e.g., Leela, Meditation Balance Game on Wii Fit)
Party: Games designed to be played in the setting of a social gathering. These games are designed
for relatively short-duration play, allow for multiple players and quick turn-taking, and may also be
designed to be spectator-friendly for the enjoyment of those who are not currently playing. (e.g.,
Mario Party, Rayman Raving Rabbids, WarioWare)

Social: Games designed to involve around heavy social interaction rather than playing in solitude.

The players engage in group activities such as making friends, chatting, sending daily gifts, teaming
up for tasks, etc. (e.g., Farmville, CityVille, Gaia Online)

4.1.4

Target Audience

Target audience is defined as a group of people for whom the resource is intended or useful, determined
by the creator or the publisher of the game. Rather than creating another scheme to represent this
information, we decided to incorporate existing rating information from organizations such as the
Entertainment Software Rating Board (i.e., Early Childhood, Everyone, Everyone 10+, Teen, Mature,
Adults Only, Rating Pending) or Videogame Rating Council (i.e., General Audiences, Mature Audiences13, Mature Audiences-17, Not Yet Rated). Apple and Android also have their own rating systems for game
apps based on the age of the player (i.e., 4+, 9+, 12+, 17+) and the level of maturity in the game content
(i.e., Everyone, Low maturity, Medium maturity, High maturity), respectively.
4.1.5

Presentation

Presentation is defined as the manner or style of game display containing the following ten foci:

2D: Representation of space in two dimensions. (e.g., A Boy and His Blob, Odin Sphere)
3D: Representation of space in three dimensions. (e.g., God of War, Uncharted)
Isometric: Games that use isometric projection to render three-dimensional objects in two
dimensions. (e.g., Final Fantasy Tactics, Age of Empires)
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Static background: Games with a background display that does not move or change. (e.g., Peggle,
Princess Maker)
Vertical scrolling: Games with a display that scrolls vertically where characters typically move from
bottom to top. (e.g., 1942, Raiden)
Side scrolling: Games with a display that scrolls horizontally where characters typically move from
left to right. (e.g., Muramasa, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)
Grid-based: Games featuring a display that is made up of a series of intersecting vertical and
horizontal axes. (e.g., Bejeweled, Tetris)
Video backdrop: Games based on interacting with a motion-video backdrop, either as scenery or an
enemy (modified from mobygames.com). (e.g., Area 51, EyeToy Groove)
Text-based: Games that use text as the main display method.
Perspective manipulation: Games where characters are able to switch between multiple display
methods (e.g., 2D to 3D or vice versa). (e.g., Super Paper Mario, Perspective)

Defining this facet presented another challenge: what is the nature of the relationship between the
Presentation and Artistic style (see below) facets? After lengthy discussion and examination of extant terms
and screenshots of game displays, we determined that it would be useful to separate the technical aspects
from the artistic or aesthetic aspects of game display. Thus two different facets in our scheme describe the
visual aspects of video games.
4.1.6

Artistic style

Artistic style is defined as a cohesive and unifying visual aesthetic. A total of nine foci were identified:

Cartoon: A style that incorporates elements typical in Western comic books and animations. (e.g.,
Batman: The Scarecrows Revenge, Plants vs. Zombies)
Anime/Manga: A style that incorporates elements typical in Japanese comic books and animations.
(e.g., Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, Tales series)
Retro: A style that incorporates pixilated looks of objects, characters, or environments that were
common in older games. (e.g., 3D Dot Game Heroes, Hotline Miami)
Realistic: A style portraying objects, characters, or environments in a realistic manner. (e.g., Final
Fantasy XIII, Halo 4)
Abstract: A style that uses simple forms, colors, and lines. (e.g., Lumines, Dyad)
Handicraft: A style where objects, characters, or environments look like they are hand-made. (e.g.,
Little Big Planet, Platypus)
Watercolor: A style where objects, characters, or environments look like they are painted in
watercolor. (e.g., Okami, Braid)
Cel-shaded: A style that renders light and shadow to enhance the illusion of a 3D surface. (e.g., The
Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Catherine)
Wireframe: A style of revealing the design structure of 3D objects with lines and curves (e.g.,
Battlezone, Stellar 7).

This facet focuses on the look of a game from an artistic or aesthetic point of view. Extant terms describing
the artistic style of games were poorly described and rarely defined. Additional complications arose, such
as how to deal with games that were intended to look realistic yet now look retro because of technical
limitations at the time of the games creation (e.g., Final Fantasy VII). Do we represent the intention of
the creators or the actual display? If the actual display is represented, then how might this information
change over time? It is easily possible that games we currently perceive as Realistic will be perceived as
Retro after 20 years.

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Temporal aspect

Temporal aspect is defined as the methods by which time passes in the game and/or manner in which
events take place. We identified the following seven foci:

Real-time: The game time progresses continuously and actions are performed in real-time. In battles
and combat, all the units act simultaneously and the player is expected to act quickly to eliminate
the enemies. (e.g., Star Ocean, Kingdom Hearts)
Turn-based: The game time is divided into turns and actions are performed by the players taking
turns. This allows players to take time to make strategic decisions. (e.g., Final Fantasy X, Valkyrie
Profile)
Time manipulation: Players are able to manipulate time by taking certain actions (e.g., changing
day to night by playing a song) or change the time flow in the game (e.g., The Legend of Zelda:
Ocarina of Time, Prince of Persia)
Time travel: Players are able to move between different points of time in the same timeline. (e.g.,
Chrono Trigger, GrimGrimoire)
Multiple game clocks: Players are able to move between different points of time in multiple timelines
that might converge or stay independent. (e.g., Final Fantasy XIII-2, Radiant Historia)
Calendar-based game clock: The game time progresses based on a calendar, sometimes regardless of
players participating in game actions. (e.g., Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, Animal Crossing)
Timed action: Players must complete certain action in a given amount of time in order to
successfully progress in the game. (e.g., Trauma Center, Time Crisis)

Certain foci will be more relevant for games employing particular types of gameplays: for instance, timed
action may appear more often in Simulation or Shooter games, time manipulation in RPGs or
Action/Adventure games, and so on. Multiple foci may be applicable for certain games (e.g., Real-time,
Time travel, and Time manipulation in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time).
4.1.8

Theme

Theme is defined as the common thread or ideas that recur in the game. Theme can help represent the
aboutness of the game regardless of the Gameplay or Style, allowing the collocation of games by theme
despite these other facets. Some examples of foci include abstract concepts such as Death, Friendship, or
Coming-of-age, entities such as Superheroes, Zombies, Robots, and Pirates, or subjects like Art, Music,
Management, and so on. We have organized a total of 127 different themes under 22 main categories (i.e.,
Art & Design, Business, Children, Concept, Crime, End of the world, Fantasy, Food, History, Holidays,
Law, Medicine, Nature, Politics, Religion, Science, Sci-fi, Sex, Sports, Supernatural, Travel &
Transportation, and War & Fighting) and we anticipate this list will grow as we test larger numbers of
games.
Categorizing these themes was not trivial, especially given definitional criteria such as mutual
exclusivity and comprehensiveness. User warrant will help keep this scheme relevant. Therefore we
evaluated themes based on the likeliness that users would seek games featuring a given theme. In order to
empirically ground this list of foci, we plan to conduct additional studies involving real users in our future
work.
4.1.9

Setting

Setting is defined as the surroundings or environment (spatial or temporal) in which the game takes place.
Currently the foci under setting are divided into two sub-categories: spatial (i.e., Asian, Casino, Castle,
Desert, Game show, Hospital, Nature, Ocean, Rural, School, Space, Spaceship, Tundra, Urban, Virtual
worlds, and Western) and temporal (i.e., Cyberpunk, Futuristic, Gothic, Historic, Medieval, Modern,
Renaissance, and Steampunk).
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Our discussion evoked the following questions: how do we describe games such as Mario Kart where
the environment of the game changes in each stage of the game? How about puzzle games such as Peggle
that may feature a display of a particular setting such as Space or Desert in the background, but it does
not significantly affect the gameplay or story? Again, user warrant could be helpful in determining when
and how to apply this facet: in other words, would describing setting information in such games be
potentially useful for users? For example, when searching for games featuring a Setting in Space, would
users expect to see games like Mario Kart or Peggle in their results? Setting may not be relevant to all
existing games, but rather only applicable to games with more complex environments. Future planned
interviews with real gamers will help reveal useful applications of Setting.
4.1.10

Mood/Affect

Mood/Affect is defined as the pervading atmosphere or tone of the video game which evokes or recalls a
certain emotion or state of mind. The role of emotions (e.g., pleasure, arousal, dominance) in playful
consumption of games has been well-documented (Holbrook et al., 1984). As games feature increasingly
complicated narratives, the relevance of this facet will increase. We identified fifteen common moods in
games including Adventurous, Aggressive, Cute, Dark, Horror, Humorous, Inspirational, Intense, Lighthearted, Mysterious, Peaceful, Sarcastic, Sensual, Solitary and Quirky. Mood taxonomies established for
other media, like music moods from allmusic.com, may prove to be useful for expanding this list in future
work.
4.1.11

Type of Ending

Type of ending is defined as the method by which the player is lead to gameplay culmination. While this
information is often sought on video game web forums such as Gamefaqs, it is not typically found in many
commercial websites. There are five foci for this facet:

4.2

Branching: A game with multiple endings (e.g., Bioshock 2; Shadow Hearts).


Circuitous: A game with a new game plus feature that allows players to start a new game after
completing the game once, while retaining some of the experience, status, or items in the newly
started game (e.g., The Walking Dead: The Game; Tales of Graces F).
Finite: A game with a single terminal ending (e.g., Portal 2; Final Fantasy VII).
Infinite: A game with no definite ending, such as one that is set in an open world (e.g., World of
Warcraft, Tiny Tower).
Post-Game: A game with bonus content that can be unlocked after completing the game once, such
as post-game dungeons (e.g., Batman: Arkham Asylum, Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria).

Application of the Scheme

As explained previously, we attempted to describe the subject of several sample games using the proposed
genre scheme. Notable examples are provided in Table 2. In this scheme it is possible to apply multiple foci
for each facet as necessary. For certain types of games, some facets may not be applicable, thus they were
left blank in the table. For instance, a tile-matching puzzle game such as Bejeweled 2 does not have a
coherent theme, notable setting, or mood. Also, some older games do not have rating information, like Super
Mario Bros. which was published in 1985.

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Shin
Megami
Tensei:
Persona 3
Portable
Gameplay RPG
Style
Purpose
Target
Audience

Jin Ha Lee et al.

kamiden

Plants vs.
Zombies

Trauma
Center:
Under the
Knife

Super Mario Mortal


Bros.
Kombat 3

Bejeweled 2

ActionAdventure

Strategy

Simulation

Action

Puzzle

Surgery

Platformer

Entertainment
Teen
(ESRB)

Entertainment

Tower
defense
EntertainEntertainEntertainment
ment
ment
Mature 17+ Everyone
Everyone
(ESRB)
10+ (ESRB) 10+ (ESRB)
JRPG

Presentati
2D, 3D
on

3D

Real-time,
Turn-based,
Temporal
Time
CalendarAspect
manipulabased
tion
Anime/
Artistic
Anime/
Manga
style
Manga
Cel-shaded
Point-of- Third
Third
view
person
person

Fighting

Tilematching
EntertainEntertainment
ment
Mature 17+ Everyone
(ESRB)
(Android)
2D, Static
2D,
background,
Isometric
Grid-based
Versus

2D

2D

2D, Sidescrolling

Timed
action

Timed
action

Real-time

Real-time

Turn-based

Cartoon

Anime/
Manga

Retro

Retro

Abstract

Top down

Multiple
Third
perspectives person

Spatial
Nature

SpatialHospital,
Temporal
Modern

Spatial
Virtual
world,
Spatial
Nature

Third
Top down
person
War and
Fighting
Combat,
Sci-Fi,
End of the
world Postapocalypse
Spatial
Virtual
world,
Temporal
Futuristic

Dark

Cute,
Humor,
Dark

Humor,
Quirky

Intense

Quirky

Aggressive

Circuitous,
Branching

Circuitous

Finite

Finite

Finite

Finite

Infinite

Theme

Supernatura
Supernatura l Demons,
l Demons Supernatura
l Gods

Setting

Spatial
School/
Asian,
Temporal
Modern

Spatial
Nature,
Temporal
Historic

Mood/
Affect
Type of
ending

Supernatura
l Zombies, Medicine
NatureHealth
Plants

Fantasy
Princess

Table 2. Facets of Video Game Genres with Examples of Genre Labels Representing Each Facet

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Conclusion and Future Work

This paper reports on a first step in understanding the complexity of video game genre in order to devise a
more robust scheme for representing this information. An analysis of game labels used in game-related
websites and catalogs revealed that the metadata element genre was heavily overloaded with multiple
dimensions of information. Through the method of facet analysis, it is possible to ascertain and represent
the different types of information embedded in current video game genre labels in a flexible and extensible
way.
Future work includes complete definitions for all the indexing terms under each facet (e.g., what is
the definition of a Stealth style game?; what counts as a Cyberpunk setting?); the creation of additional
metadata records to test the scheme; and usability studies involving real users of video games. Such studies
will not only shed light on how gamers understand genre and the clarity of the terms and definitions
developed here but also evaluate the usefulness of a faceted, multi-dimensional genre classification for
locating and accessing games.
This project is part of a larger research agenda to develop a metadata schema specifying important
information features, their definitions, and attributes for video games. This schema will include the genre
scheme described here as well as other types of metadata elements that are useful for a wide variety of users
interested in video games. We have established a core schema containing the 16 metadata elements crucial
in describing video games in any context (Lee et al., 2013) and we are currently in the process of developing
a larger recommended set. We hope to augment existing standards in the LIS field, such as FRBR and
related standards, as well as assisting organizations such as SIMM and Common Sense Media by providing
a more formal metadata schema and encoding schemes that can be used across multiple game-related
websites and other resources. Eventually, the scheme will be used to describe the video game collection
owned by SIMM, from which a working catalog will be created, enabling users to search and browse games.

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Table of Figures

Figure 1: Steps Involved in Facet Analysis ................................................................................................129

Table of Tables

Table 1: Video Game Genre Facets with Examples of Genre Labels Representing Each Facet ...............131
Table 2. Facets of Video Game Genres with Examples of Genre Labels Representing Each Facet ..........136

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